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Directions: Let’s take the big picture of a topic and narrow it down to one word

by | Mar 4, 2022 | English


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Let’s take the big picture of a topic and narrow it down to one word. Choose one prompt below for your focus. In a short paragraph, share the word you chose and answer the following questions:
Why did you choose that word?
How does it cover the big ideas?
Use specific details from the readings from this class, or your own experiences and knowledge, to support your choice of your word.
Prompt 1:
In this lesson, you read two texts about the Sirens and the song of the Sirens. The topic for this Word Journal is the Sirens. Choose one adjective to describe the Sirens as presented in the adapted Homer text “The Sirens: Scylla and Charybdis; Thrinacia I.” Then explain your word choice.
Background: The Odyssey
The Odyssey is the second of two epic poems written by the Greek poet Homer. Homer’s first poem, The Iliad, tells of the intrigues and events of the final weeks of the Trojan War. In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was a conflict waged by the Greeks against the city of Troy. The trouble began when Paris, Troy’s leader, took Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, from her husband, the leader of Sparta, a Greek city-state. Although the story spans only a few weeks, it provides rich background information about Greek gods and goddesses, Greek legends of the conflict, and earlier events of the war. The Iliad introduces Odysseus, King of Ithaca, who is the voice of reason and a pillar of self-control among the more volatile characters on the side of the Greeks.
Odysseus returns in The Odyssey, a poem that recounts his 10-year journey home from the Trojan War to Ithaca and his family. Odysseus faces numerous challenges in the voyage home, including conflicts with the gods, encounters with mythical creatures, and difficulties managing the crew he travels with. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is depicted as heroic, strong, and shrewd. However, like every classic Greek hero, he has a major flaw: pride. When his pride turns to arrogance, or hubris, Odysseus runs into trouble. Fortunately, Odysseus is able to learn from his experiences, heed the advice of others, and apply his sharp intelligence to reach home.
This excerpt from The Odyssey describes Odysseus’s encounter with the Sirens, mythical bird-woman creatures believed to be daughters of the river god Achelous. Sirens are depicted in different ways in works of art and in literature; some say there were two Sirens, others three. Some portray the Sirens with women’s heads and bird bodies, others with bird legs, but human upper bodies. While their appearance is intriguing, it is the Siren’s song that makes them notorious. From their island home, the Sirens sang enchanting, haunting songs that lured passing sailors toward their island, where their ships would crash on the rocky shore. The island’s shores were said to be littered with the bones of dead sailors. Only a few men were known to have heard the Siren’s song and lived to tell about it. One of these men was Odysseus.
Examining a Source Text: The Odyssey
Read the excerpt from The Odyssey in which the sorceress Circe provides Odysseus and his men with a plan to resist the Sirens’ song and safely continue their journey.
From “The Sirens: Scylla and Charybdis; Thrinacia I”
By Homer, as adapted by H. L. Havell
After the evening meal Circe drew Odysseus apart, and questioned him on all that he had seen and heard on that strange journey, from which he had returned, as she said, like one ransomed from death. And when he had told his story she instructed him as to the course which he had to steer on leaving the island, and warned him against the manifold perils of the voyage.
“First,” said she, “thou wilt come to the rocks of the Sirens, maidens of no mortal race, who beguile the ears of all that hear them. Woe to him who draws near to listen to their song! He shall never see the faces of his wife and children again, or feel their arms about his neck, but there he shall perish, and there his bones shall rot. Therefore take heed, and when thou drawest near the place stop the ears of thy men with wax, and bid them bind thee fast with cords, that thou mayest hear the song of the Sirens. And when that seducing melody fills thine ears, thou wilt beg and implore thy comrades to set thee free, that thou mayest draw near and have speech of the Sirens. Then let them bind thee more firmly to the mast, and take to their oars, and fly the enchanted rocks.”
. . .
In the distance a low-lying coast appeared, which Odysseus knew to be the island of the Sirens. Forthwith he began to make his preparations to meet the danger which lay before them. Taking a ball of wax he cut it into small pieces, and having worked each piece in his hand until it was soft and plastic he carefully stopped the ears of all his men with the wax. Then two of the crew, to whom he had already given his orders, bound him hand and foot to the mast of the vessel. All being ready, they rowed forward until they came within full view of the island. And there, in a low-lying meadow hard by the sea, sat the Sirens; lovely they were of aspect, and gracious of mien; but all around them were piled the bones of men who had fallen victims to their wicked wit, fleshless ribs, from which the skin still hung in yellow shreds, and grinning skulls, gazing with eyeless sockets at the sea.
As the ship drew near, the whole choir lifted up their voices and began to sing a sweet and piercing strain, which thrilled the very marrow of Odysseus as he listened. The winds hovered near on flagging wing, the sea lay locked in deep repose, and all nature paused with attentive ear, to catch the SONG OF THE SIRENS.
“Mighty warrior, sage renowned,
Turn, O turn thy bark this way!
Rest upon this holy ground,
Listen to the Sirens’ lay.
Never yet was seaman found
Passing our enchanted bay,
But he paused, and left our bound
Filled with wisdom from his stay.
All we know, whatever befell
On the tented fields of Troy,
All the lore that Time can tell,
All the mystic fount of joy.”
It was a strain cunningly calculated to flatter a deep, subtle spirit like that of Odysseus. To know all! to read all secrets, and unravel the tangled skein of human destiny! What a bribe was this to this restless and eager mind! Then the voices of the witch-women were so liquid, and the music so lovely, that they took the very air with ravishment, and melted the hearer’s soul within him. Odysseus struggled to break his bonds, and nodded to his men to come and loose him. But they, who had been warned of this very thing, rose up and bound him with fresh cords. Then they grasped their oars again, the water roared under their sturdy strokes, and soon they were out of hearing of that seductive melody.
Background: “Siren Song”
Margaret Atwood is a contemporary Canadian poet and author of novels, short stories, and essays. Atwood is known for exploring many facets of human behavior, women’s roles in society, and the natural world. In the poem “Siren Song,” Atwood reinterprets the Sirens in a more modern, lighthearted way. In doing so, she provides deeper perspective on the motivations of the Sirens. Atwood examines the forces that drive the Sirens’ behavior in an effort to make broader statements about human nature.
In “Siren Song,” the speaker in the poem is a Siren, who addresses her audience in a conversational tone. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker suggests that everyone would love to have the ability to attract others at will. However, the poem takes an unexpected and amusing turn when the speaker expresses discontent with her role. Does the Siren in Atwood’s poem despise or delight in the song she sings? Let this question guide your thinking as you explore “Siren Song.”
Like many poems, “Siren Song” is written in stanzas. Stanzas provide a visual structure and format to a poem. Stanzas help poets create desired effects like rhyme, meter, pauses, and transitions between ideas or moods. Each stanza presents a thought, idea, or action. Poets use stanzas to link ideas together and to create overarching meaning.
To explore the meaning of “Siren Song,” follow these steps:
Analyze the title to help predict the poem’s overall meaning or message.
Read the poem through once to identify the central idea.
Reread the poem, stanza by stanza, to determine what each stanza tells you, how each stanza fits with the rest of the poem, and why Atwood includes each stanza in the poem.
Consider how each stanza fits with the stanza that precedes it.
Consider how the stanzas fit together to create the poem’s overall meaning or message.
Once you have gained a deeper understanding of “Siren Song,” you can then compare and contrast Atwood’s interpretation of the Sirens with the way they are represented in the excerpt from The Odyssey.
Siren Song
By Margaret Atwood
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.
Author James Russell Lowell, in his 1840 poem “The Sirens,” draws on the story of the Sirens to explore aspects of human nature such as temptation and escapism, or the desire to retreat from harsh realities in a seeming paradise.
The Sirens
By James Russell Lowell
The sea is lonely, the sea is dreary,
The sea is restless and uneasy;
Thou seekest quiet, thou art weary,
Wandering thou knowest not whither;—
Our little isle is green and breezy,
Come and rest thee! Oh come hither,
Come to this peaceful home of ours,
Where evermore
The low west-wind creeps panting up the shore
To be at rest among the flowers;
Full of rest, the green moss lifts,
As the dark waves of the sea
Draw in and out of rocky rifts,
Calling solemnly to thee
With voices deep and hollow,—
“To the shore
Follow! Oh, follow!
To be at rest forevermore!
Look how the gray old Ocean
From the depth of his heart rejoices,
Heaving with a gentle motion,
When he hears our restful voices;
List how he sings in an undertone,
Chiming with our melody;
And all sweet sounds of earth and air
Melt into one low voice alone,
That murmurs over the weary sea,
And seems to sing from everywhere,—
“Here mayst thou harbor peacefully,
Here mayst thou rest from the aching oar;
Turn thy curvèd prow ashore,
And in our green isle rest forevermore!
And Echo half wakes in the wooded hill,
And, to her heart so calm and deep,
Murmurs over in her sleep,
Doubtfully pausing and murmuring still,
Thus, on Life’s weary sea,
Heareth the marinere
Voices sweet, from far and near,
Ever singing low and clear,
Ever singing longingly.
Is it not better here to be,
Than to be toiling late and soon?
In the dreary night to see
Nothing but the blood-red moon
Go up and down into the sea;
Or, in the loneliness of day,
To see the still seals only
Solemnly lift their faces gray,
Making it yet more lonely?
Is it not better than to hear
Only the sliding of the wave
Beneath the plank, and feel so near
A cold and lonely grave,
A restless grave, where thou shalt lie
Even in death unquietly?
Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark,
Lean over the side and see
The leaden eye of the sidelong shark
Upturnèd patiently,
Ever waiting there for thee:
Look down and see those shapeless forms,
Which ever keep their dreamless sleep
Far down within the gloomy deep,
And only stir themselves in storms,
Rising like islands from beneath,
And snorting through the angry spray,
As the frail vessel perisheth
In the whirls of their unwieldy play;
Look down! Look down!
Upon the seaweed, slimy and dark,
That waves its arms so lank and brown,
Beckoning for thee!
Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark
Into the cold depth of the sea!
Look down! Look down!
Thus, on Life’s lonely sea,
Heareth the marinere
Voices sad, from far and near,
Ever singing full of fear,
Ever singing drearfully.
Here all is pleasant as a dream;
The wind scarce shaketh down the dew,
The green grass floweth like a stream
Into the ocean’s blue;
Listen! Oh, listen!
Here is a gush of many streams,
A song of many birds,
And every wish and longing seems
Lulled to a numbered flow of words,—
Listen! Oh, listen!
Here ever hum the golden bees
Underneath full-blossomed trees,
At once with glowing fruit and flowers crowned;—
So smooth the sand, the yellow sand,
That thy keel will not grate as it touches the land;
All around with a slumberous sound,
The singing waves slide up the strand,
And there, where the smooth, wet pebbles be
The waters gurgle longingly,
As if they fain would seek the shore,
To be at rest from the ceaseless roar,
To be at rest forevermore,—
Thus, on Life’s gloomy sea,
Heareth the marinere
Voices sweet, from far and near,
Ever singing in his ear,
“Here is rest and peace for thee!”


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